By: Maren Roberts, Girl Up Intern
My parents gave me my first bike when I was seven.
I was elated. It was a two-wheeler with no training wheels, but… it was from the Barbie brand. Nothing was wrong with liking Barbies but at the time, but I immediately removed the purple and white streamers attached to the handlebars and attempted to cover up the metallic pink paint coat with skateboard stickers.
After deciding the bike was sufficiently ‘de-girl-ified’, I began riding my new two-wheeler in the alley behind our house. Coincidentally, it was the summer of the 2002 Tour De France Bicycle Race, and I was inspired. With my heart racing, I would bike up and down the alley with my eyes closed, convinced that I could (and would) be the girl version of the next Lance Armstrong.
As the only female child between two brothers, I was constantly on-guard about anything I thought would make me stand out from the boys. I wanted my brothers and peers to see me as resilient, fierce, capable, aggressive, and most importantly, sporty – even though it’s estimated that only 4 out of 10 girls define themselves as sporty compared to more than 6 out of 10 boys (Women in Sport).
As a result, I was wary of anything traditionally associated with femininity: from my clothing, to my toys, to elective after-school activities. The social construct of gender deluded me into thinking that femininity and masculinity were pre-determined and fixed.
Through exercise, I learned to contest these stereotypes and prejudices about what it means to be a girl or boy.
I pursued everything active and participated on any sports teams my parents would allow. On most evenings, I was outside rollerblading, running, biking, scootering, or kicking a soccer ball until the streetlights turned on.
Defining what it means to be a woman athlete has been a lifelong journey for me, as I think it is for most. In search of the release and confidence that physical activity provides, I am continuously pushing myself to try new sports – solo hiking, surfing, yoga, etc. To this day, nothing compares to the addictive rush of adrenaline I receive from physical accomplishments that I, or others, might have thought weren’t possible for a girl. I am energized and empowered by being an athlete and a woman.
Sports is not just about the rush. For me, fitness provides a mental clarity that ultimately increases my capacity to address everyday issues head-on.
When I am confronted with situations where someone attempts to challenge my capabilities as a woman, I draw on the techniques I learned from sports. After deep breathing, I assume a power pose and remind myself that it’s okay to take up as much as space on the field, in a meeting, or at a table as I need in order to be acknowledged.
As an athlete, I have learned I can proudly defy expectations, surpass obstacles, and create change – all while wearing a ribbon in my hair. There are other benefits, too. It turns out that when teenage girls play sports, we do better in school and also are more likely to have stronger leadership skills, high self-esteem, stronger relationships and improved physical health (Women’s Sports Foundation).
In retrospect, I wish I had realized sooner that to be feminine is to be sporty, and to be feminine is to be strong. Girls should feel free to discover and define femininity in their own terms. There is no need to quench your femininity (whatever that means or looks like to you) in order to be the quickest sprinter, the wrestling champion, the highest jumper, or even just the happiest, most-dedicated player on the field. I own my identity as a female athlete, and hope other girls and women do the same.
Read more stories like these and learn more about Girl Up’s Sports for a Purpose program at GirlUp.org/Sports